How to Manage a Consultant

What's the role of the outside consultant(s) in your organization, and how do you manage this role? Have any of these situations happened to you?

  • The firm implies that high-level, seasoned consultants will do the work, but then replaces them with greener staff.

  • As an add-on to this bait-and-switch maneuver, the firm claims expertise in a given area, but uses the client's project to train new consultants.

  • The firm overbills, often by putting extra consultants on-site, overcharging for living expenses or doing work outside the contract scope.

  • The firm disagrees with definitions of key terms, such as "product" and "test," frequently leading to delays while the parties haggle.

Managing a consultant requires a significant amount of hand-holding to prevent them from assuming too much power and responsibility, according Ella Conrad, a CIO in California, who has worked with both Arthur Andersen, LLP and Andersen Consulting.

Earlier this year, Conrad, who works for an Internet utility company, said she fired a consulting firm because the firm attempted to run up billable hours by putting extra people on the docket. Caught unaware and by surprise, she exploded.

Evidently, the practice of bringing in entire project teams without the client's approval is very common. Bruce Webster, who works in the Washington, D.C. PricewaterhouseCoopers office, says consultants typically function as full-time employees, and with the compensation involved, a company should get a firm handle on the situation.

He suggests that a company should review the resumes and interview anyone brought in, and that the contract should list the people who will work on the project, along with a maximum turnover rate.

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